Before COVID-19 became a pandemic, a need for ventilation was one of the most common reasons people received treatment in ICUs. Since then, the demand for ventilators has increased.
What do ventilators do?
A ventilator is a device that supports or recreates the process of breathing by pumping air into the lungs. Sometimes people refer to it as a vent or breathing machine.
Doctors use ventilators if a person cannot breathe adequately on their own. This may be because they are undergoing general anesthesia or have an illness that affects their breathing.
There are different types of ventilator, and each provides varying levels of support. The type a doctor uses will depend on the person’s condition.
Ventilators play an important role in saving lives, both in hospitals and ambulances. People who require long-term ventilation can also use them at home.
Who needs a ventilator?
People require ventilation if they are experiencing respiratory failure. When this occurs, a person cannot get enough oxygen and may not be able to expel carbon dioxide very well either. It can be a life-threatening condition.
There are many injuries and conditions that can cause respiratory failure, including:
- head injury
- lung disease
- spinal cord injury
- sudden cardiac arrest
- neonatal respiratory distress syndrome
- acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
Some people with COVID-19 have severe difficulty breathing, or develop ARDS. However, this only occurs in people who become critically ill, which accounts for around 5% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases.
In addition, doctors also use ventilators for people who undergo surgery and will not be able to breathe on their own due to anesthesia.
Types of ventilator
There are several ways a person can receive ventilator support. These include:
- face mask ventilators
- mechanical ventilators
- manual resuscitator bags
- tracheostomy ventilators
Role of ventilator in COVID
A patient is placed on a ventilator when they are in respiratory failure. That means they are incapable of moving air into and out of their lungs in a such a way as to adequately get enough oxygen and/or expel enough CO2 to support life. This happens in COVID-19 when the infected lung becomes so inflamed, scarred over, and full of fluid, that it loses its compliance. The ventilator literally pushes air into and out of the lungs because the lungs can’t do it themselves. You continue to ventilate the patient until the edema (fluid) and inflammation subsides enough that the body can ventilate itself. Sometimes the scarring from inflammation is so great that the patient can never come off the ventilator.